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Nokia XpressMusic birth of a new line-up

Not only did Nokia freshen up its handsets range and introduce a number of Music Editions of its phones at Nokia Open Studio, it also officially announced revision of its view on music phones development. Till recently the company had featured loads of music-optimized models, if we are to count those with just music players onboard as well, without wide set of extra capabilities. Having on hands many products with bundled FM-radio and standard audio jack, Nokia was far inferior to Walkman in many respects. First, quality of interface layout affected the Finnish manufacturers solutions Nokias S40 music player was very ascetic and retained a couple of crucial functionality caps (for example, there were no categorizing feature, ranking system etc.), on top of that some controls seemed quite crude, as they were against customers habits. Second, ways of positioning of handsets differed a lot many unsophisticated users occasionally could not figure out that they were playing around with a Nokias music phone, as it wasnt obvious from the handsets specifications. XPressMusic brand was promoted mainly as a smartphones-tailored solution; however the products coming from that line-up as a rule stayed unnoticed, except for Nokia 3250. The rest of smartphones got quite dubious positioning, which implied that XPressMusic brand was only a makeweight to other more important functions for example Adobes logo was more conspicuous than the picture of XPressMusic on the box. Due to such approach to positioning, frequently Nokias solutions were considered to be everything but music phones to reckon with, which was a serious drawback. And finally, the company didnt provide applications for PC that would help in copying songs to a mobile device, convert already existing disks (similar to Disc2Phone by Sony Ericsson). All the abovementioned reasons constituted only the tip of the iceberg that prevented Nokia from competing with Sony Ericssons Walkman on equal terms.

Nevertheless Nokia came to its senses at last, and has been intensively developing XPressMusic line-up for both S40- and S60-based products during the last six months. S40 platform has undergone some serious changes, as the company has applied different ways of positioning and enhanced their overall functionality. Let us take a view of what the company has already done and what the market should expect in future.

The list of improvements looks quite impressive indeed, here are the primary aspects:

  • Orientation towards embedding standard miniUSB socket in all XPressMusic-labeled phones this cuts down expenses on purchases of extra cable and standardizes the interface itself.
  • Availability of a PC application for converting songs, into AAC format as well (MP3-quality a size smaller by 20-30 percent).
  • Re-worked players interface includes logical layout of controls, refreshed set of equalizers, music library similar to that found on S60-powered devices (a pack of genre, artist etc. filters)
  • Support for A2DP Bluetooth has become a must for all products, which allows using wireless stereo-headsets (the only exceptions are old solutions that have already been up for a while, for example S60-based smartphones like Nokia 3250).
  • Presence of 2.5 mm jack on S40-based phones casings (allows for plugging in corresponding earphones) and an adapted for connecting 3.5 mm earphones via that jack. Some models will initially carry a 3.5 mm jack on them. All in all, a devastating move, especially when taking account of Sony Ericsson refusing to incorporate standard jacks into mass Walkman models (plugging in of own earphones via a headset).
  • Dedicated music player keys on most devices running on the S40 a riposte to Walkman series.
  • Positioning of XPressMusic-branded devices as music-centric solutions, and thus setting up of competition with Walkman line-up.

Some innovations appear to be piercing steps against Walkman brand (miniUSB-socket, side-mounted keys, brand promotion), however there is nothing fundamentally new in them, as Walkman has already undergone all these measures in one or another way. Having gathered a critical number of followers, Walkman acts as a leading music solution, thus Nokia ends up playing an unusual role of a runner-up. But the brand-new XpressMusic line-up seemingly can cope with such goal, especially considering the weight the worlds best manufacturer (according to consumers) has got. Nokia is bending every effort to development of XPressMusic series, so basically the announcements of September, 27 are only the first signs, as in the next six months we are going to see 5-6 more devices originating from this series, while their functionality will start growing gradually. For the time being, we can say that the new models running on XpressMusic and Walkman 1.0 respectively (version 2.0 proposes greater capabilities) are almost equally good.

The revamped Nokia 3250 may be considered as the first announcement in this row from now on the model will comes in five new trims black, pink, silver, red and white, grey and white. Over at Nokia they claim that another feature is enabled support for 2 Gb microSD memory cards, nevertheless the original Nokia 3250 offers just the same thing (basically on its release there were no 2 Gb cards available). Hence we have only a slightly amplified device owing to new color schemes and sales package, which eventually results in higher price. In October the refreshed Nokia 32500 will hit the stores at an unsubsidized price of 400 Euro (therefore, 450-470 Euro seem to be a more reasonable value).

The first handset running on the S40 that comes from the freshened up XPressMusic range is Cosmo, which is not a big surprise, since the information on that device became available long before the official announcement, furthermore some Russian distributors have already posted pre-order forms for customers. Model Nokia 5300 shows off fairly good spec sheet, as its a S40 3rd edition based phone after all (similarly to Nokia 6131, Nokia 6233).

You can check out definitive review on the platforms functionality here>>>

The slider brings nothing new in terms of dimensions and measures 92.448.220.7 in size, weights 106 grams. Actually the form-factor picked for this handset was chosen not randomly Sony Ericsson doesnt have relatively cheap sliders in its middle price-bracket portfolio, as the company attributes this form-factor to fashion solutions and applies it only for top-notch products, like Sony Ericsson W850i.

The display found on the 5300 features QVGA resolution with 262 K colors. On the face of it, the screen reminds more of Nokia 6233, rather than Nokia 6131. Though it is still quite nice to play around with and boasts good color rendering.

The device makes use of a 860 mAh Li-Ion battery (BL-5B). As the manufacturer claims, it powers the handset for nearly 12 hours in music playback mode, which is nice, although the up-to-date Walkmans easily beat that time (18 hours at least, most models provide about 25-30 hours of lifetime). The music player sports support for MP3, WMA, M4A, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+ formats. Even though the microSD socket is placed underneath the cover, it still allows for hot swap feature.

The handset comes in two appealing trims red and dark-grey. In both cases painted details have framings made of white plastic. I wont unveil my personal feelings about the design here, as tastes differ, however on the face of it the solutions are aimed mainly at youth. In the not distant future Nokia 5300 will get a companion with another form-factor, austere and classic design, targeting at higher age brackets.

The casings plastic is quite interesting the side-mounted buttons are rubberized and thus somewhat remind of Sony Ericsson W710i. On the whole, the 5300s design didnt let me get rid of a strong feeling that I was holding a device by Alcatel (a mix consisting of entry-level sliders and Alcatel S853).

The handset ships with a microSD memory card, whose volume directly depends on a region. However Nokia recommends 512 Mb ones, at that unsubsidized price of this solution amounts 250 Euro (275-285 Euro in the upshot). Looking at the price, we can see that the 5300 gets to competing with Sony Ericsson W800i, Sony Ericsson W700i, and probablySony Ericsson W710i. Once again, the handset rips the benefits of its precisely chosen form-factor and will have more room for maneuvers.

The shortcomings of the 5300 include presence of an entry-level 1.3 Mpix camera (allowing video recording in quite mediocre resolution of 176x144 pixels), which is unusual for this segment. One more thing of note the model incorporates an FM-radio module by default.

This handset also has some attraction that we have overlooked, like an SWF-clip telling about the devices feature, fetching animated wallpapers embedded in default themes (for example bottom-upwards moving new windows), and initially available settings for assigning a tune as a ringcallback alarm (must be supported by your mobile operator). All in all, the model turned out to be an interesting one and even if it isnt destined to become a best-seller, it will still have considerable sale volumes and will be recognized as the first true music-centric solution by Nokia running on the S40 in this year.

Unintentionally you might think of Nokia 5200 as a slightly downgraded edition of Nokia 5300 XpressMusic similar design, presence of an audio-adapter and exactly the same headset in the sales package should only add to that impression, while the lack of memory card seemingly must affect the solutions price. Identical players interface layout and a number of innovations also strengthen that impression. But eventually all this turns out to be wrong, as the manufacturer doesnt attribute the 5200 to XpressMusic range, since dedicated player keys are missing (except for a side-mounted one that starts the player up). The model comes in two colors Red and Light Blue.

Simplifications also include displays resolution (128x160 pixels) and type (cSTN), VGA-camera, lack of several extra applications in the standard kit. All for all these downgrades the device offers a price only 50 Euro lower, which makes it not cheap, but on the contrary, a very expensive solution. Apparently, the company counts on the visual similarity of the models, so that some will pick a more unsophisticated solution without realizing that its far inferior to the senior handset. The model is exceedingly overpriced and in my opinion should cost around 170 Euro (with all taxes included) 40-50 Euro less than it current price.

Winding up the story about launch of XPressMusic series (its not a mistake, as we saw not a single device but a number of handsets instead) with great pleasure I must note that the market is about to enter a new era of tough competition between music phones, which means we will see solutions get cheaper and at the same time more feature-packed, so all consumers will definitely benefit from that.

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (oleg.kononosov@mobile-review.com)

Published - 28 September 2006

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